By: Nghiinomenwa-vali Erastus
Among the sectors to be prioritised under phase two of the country Growth at Home Strategy is Agro-processing (Wood Charcoal), the ministry of industrialisation announced.
The Ministry of Industrilisatoion and Trade announced last week that it is exploring wood charcoal as an industry for value addition under The Growth At Home Strategy.
Namibia is in Phase Two of implementing the Growth at Home Strategy, which is the theme chosen by the industrialisation Ministry to reinforce the importance of accelerating economic growth, reducing income inequality, and increasing employment.
Growth at Home emphasises the significance of industrialisation by strengthening national value chains and creating more efficient linkages within the economy.
Moreover, to improve the ease of doing business and ongoing engagement of collaboration between the government and private sector.
According to the statistics from Namibia Statistics Agency, from 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, Namibia has exported wood charcoal worth N$1,2 billion, with N$285,7 worth of charcoal exported in the first quarter of this year.
The products were mainly destined for South Africa, Netherlands, and United Kingdom.
In the first phase of the Growth at Home Strategy, the government planned to increase the total bush harvesting area dedicated to charcoal production by 70 per cent between 2014 and 2020.
From 50 000 ha in 2014 to a target of 85 000 ha in 2020- however, in their announcement, there is no update if this was achieved as they move to phase two.
In Africa, as much as 30 per cent of the wood fuel is being used for charcoal production, according to the industrialisation ministry.
This is because charcoal production is often an integral part of the wood processing value chain in countries with a highly developed wood processing industry.
This is based on residues, which are carbonised using modern industrial retort kilns with high efficiencies.
This industrial wood charcoal is then used for chemical appliances and steel production and only to a lesser extent as cooking fuel.
At the same time, charcoal is the cooking fuel of many urban dwellers in developing countries rather than fuelwood.
Increasing urbanisation rates could therefore explain the notable steep increase in wood fuel conversion to charcoal in Africa, where traditional earth kilns, which tend to be less efficient in terms of conversion ratios, are often used for charcoal production.
Namibia has an abundance of encroachment of bush species.
It was estimated in 2008 that approximately 26 million hectares of Namibian farmland are moderate to highly affected by bush encroachment.
More recent unofficial research places this figure closer to 40 million hectares (GIZ 2016 Strategic Environmental Assessment), but a GIS mapping exercise has yet to confirm this.
Bush encroachment coupled with overgrazing and poor rangeland practices has caused extensive land degradation in Namibia.
The ministry reported that the biodiversity level has dropped considerably as bush encroachment has increased.
Since the beginning of the last century, a significant decrease in agricultural productivity due to the land’s reduced carrying capacity has been observed.
As an intervention, a combination of charcoal and wood products can be implemented as a bush-encroachment mitigation strategy, wrote the ministry in the Strategy.
At the same time, more and more farmers are turning to charcoal production to compensate for the loss of farming income and as an alternative source of cash flow.
Deemed a national challenge, bush encroachment has begun to mobilise both public- and private-sector responses.
The production of lump charcoal is Namibia’s oldest wood-based value chain.
At the same time, it is the single most important product value chain from a de-bushing point of view. By 2016, estimates generate demand for biomass input of approximately 350 000 to 500 000 tonnes per year.
Thus, contributing to the de-bushing of 35,000 to 50,000 hectares of land each year.